How To Help Young Adults Learn To Deal With Uncertainty About Their Future

RADA | Uncertainty


We’ve all been through a point in our lives when we seemed to be at a crossroads and we don’t know which road to take. We’ve all been afraid we would screw up big time and ruin the rest of our lives. Young adulthood is just one of the touchpoints in life when we are faced with such uncertainty and anxiety about the future. This is one of the most critical pivotal points that we need to be aware of when raising our daughters. In this episode, Tim Jordan, MD, discusses why we deal with such uncertainty during young adulthood and how we can help the young adults under our care understand that it’s a normal part of life and they can still enjoy the process. Tune in!

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How To Help Young Adults Learn To Deal With Uncertainty About Their Future

This show comes out every week. I talk about girls. I talk about young women. I talk about the challenges that they’re facing. I talk about your role in that. I talk about how to be the kind of parent that they’ll want to come to, lean on, and be an influence now and forever. I am prompted to do this topic. The topic is how to help young adults learn to deal with the uncertainty in their lives and the uncertainty about their future. The reason I was prompted to do this is there have been a couple of things. In my counseling practice, in the last several months especially, I’ve had a whole bunch of young women in high school and college who I’m counseling who are stressed out and anxious because of all the uncertainty about their future.

I also ran a weekend retreat with high school girls who are mostly juniors and seniors. I heard the same thing with that age group. There is so much anxiety about not knowing. They are worried about their futures. They are worried about whether they’re going to be able to make it. There are a lot of reasons for that. What I’m going to talk about first in this episode is why all that uncertainty, and then I’m going to talk about what we can do to support them.

The Fear Of Making Mistakes

There are a lot of reasons why there’s uncertainty. One of them is it’s a normal part of life, but they don’t know that. Young women or high school girls also are worried about making mistakes. They have a belief system that says, “If I make one mistake now or one ‘bad decision’, it’s going to derail my life. It will screw everything up.”

I saw a girl also in my counseling practice. She’s a senior high school. She’s worried. She told me, and this is with tears, that she feels so behind all of her friends because all of her high school senior friends know what college they’re going to already. They know what they’re going to major in. They know what they want to study. They know what their career is going to be.

She doesn’t know any of that. She’s still filling out applications and doesn’t know where she wants to go. She was crying. She was really crying deeply because she felt so sad and ashamed. That’s a key feeling. She is ashamed that she’s feeling all this. She feels like she should be way farther ahead. That feeling of being behind is an ashamed feeling.

I counseled several women who were juniors and seniors in college. They are also worried about their future because, for some of them in about six months or some of them in maybe a year and a half, they’re anticipating the next step of their journey, which is getting a job and graduating from college. The worry for them is, “Am I going to be able to get a job? Am I going to get a good job or is it going to be a crappy job that I hate? Am I going to be able to make enough money to support myself? Am I going to be able to get a job that gives me enough money that I can afford to have an apartment in a big city?”

One young woman is in the fashion design industry in her studies. She feels like she’s going to need to live in LA, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, or somewhere like that. It’s so expensive to live there. She went on and on. She’s building this huge story up about how she’s never going to be able to make it. There are no jobs and she’s not going to be able to afford it. She’s going to have to move home. She went downhill from there. They ruminate in that kind of way.

That one mistake thing is huge. They are making one mistake, one decision about the college they go to, classes they take, or a major. For the girl who was really upset about all that because all of her friends know, there is a reasonable part of her brain that knows that’s not true. She knows that a lot of those people are going to change their majors once they get to college. Most young people know that a lot of people change their majors. It’s 3 or 4 times by the time they find their final one. There’s a part of her that knows that, but the emotional part is also there where she feels like she should know and they’re ahead of her and all that. It’s like those two wolves in their heads story. She’s paying a lot of attention to the one about, “I feel behind.”

I did an episode about why young adults are afraid to grow up. I interviewed some high school seniors. They spoke very clearly about why they were afraid to grow up. Go back and review that episode. I don’t want to review it here. All of that stuff is there. They were worried about being able to become an adult. They were worried about making decisions. They were worried about taking care of themselves. What a lot of them said was their parents have done so much for them that they don’t feel prepared. They also don’t have a good understanding of why they are feeling all of this.

I explained to them the concept of touchpoints, which I’ve mentioned in some episodes probably previously. Touchpoints was a concept created by my old mentor, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. Touchpoints are times in our lives when we are about to undergo a big leap in development, a change, or a transition. We come to those places in our lives throughout our lives. This is not a high school senior thing. It’s an all-of-our-life kind of thing.

Three-year-olds going through a stage of autonomy are growing up and becoming more independent. They’re wrestling with the system. Also, 5 and 6-year-olds who have lots of fears. I can remember a very distinct thing when I used to counsel girls who were that young. I don’t anymore, but I remember 5 and 6-year-olds looking at me in the eye and saying, “I don’t want to grow up.” There is a part of them that wants to. They may have had an older sibling, so they want some of those freedoms and those privileges, but there’s another part of them that likes being taken care of. They’re like, “I want to grow up and I don’t.” That internal ambivalence causes them to fall apart. I’ll talk about that piece in a minute.

In middle school years for girls, they experience body changes, puberty, friendship changes, and interest changes. They are rethinking their values. Their school changes. All that can create a lot of anxiety. That becomes a touchpoint. High school seniors are anticipating that leap in development and going somewhere. It might be college. It might be a trade school. It might be to join the Army. No matter where they go, it’s different. It’s a huge change from living at home and having a certain schedule like seven hours of classes a day. It’s going to be different. That’s a touchpoint. The college seniors that I mentioned earlier are anticipating leaping off into a real adult world of having a big girl job, an apartment, and all those kinds of things.

The months before we have a baby is a touchpoint. The months before we get married is a touchpoint. There was a lot of unrest around that time. Young, soon-to-be-married couples oftentimes argue a little bit more. For parents, when the last child leaves the nest and it becomes an empty nest, that is a touchpoint for us. When our parents pass away, that is a touchpoint for all of us as adults. There is also menopause for women and midlife crisis. There are all kinds of times in our lives when it’s a jumping-off place.

The key to touchpoints is that as we approach that leap in development, as we approach that growth, people tend to fall apart. They are more moody, more anxious, more angry, and restless. There are all these jumble of emotions that make it hard for us to move on. We have one foot in the future and one foot in the past. We’re like, “I want to grow up and I don’t. I want to go to college and get out of this boring town I live in and get out of my parents’ house, but I don’t know. I got to start over. I got to make some new friends. It’s all going to be different. Am I going to be able to make it? I want to grow up and I don’t.”

Those feelings that come at touchpoints at those transition times are normal. They are feelings of uncertainty and feelings of anxiety about the change that’s about to happen. There are all kinds of feelings that cause us to feel restless and out of sorts. If you don’t understand those emotions, then what happens is girls start to think that they’re crazy. They start to think they have a problem.

They sometimes go and see therapists or psychiatrists and then they get labeled with something like an anxiety disorder. They think they’re dysfunctional. They think they have a chemical imbalance. They think that they’re broken and they need to be fixed. Sometimes, they end up being medicated when what they really need most and foremost is an understanding of why they’re feeling that way. It’s normal to have those feelings.

The Price Of Freedom

I did this when I had high school girls in my retreat. I asked them, “How many of you feel like you have some choices about what’s going to happen once you leave high school?” They all said they did. It was choices about whether they wanted to go to college. If they do, where and what they are going to study. They have lots of choices and lots of freedom that comes with that. I told them, “Anytime you have those stages in your life with lots of choices and lots of freedom, what goes along with that is uncertainty and some anxiety. They tend to go hand in hand. One way to look at it is to remember that one price of freedom is going to be uncertainty.”

The price of freedom is uncertainty. Click To Tweet

They’re very grateful they have choices. There are people around the world with all the skirmishes and the war and things going on where people do not have choices. A lot of these young women I’m working with do, people in this country. Some of the choices may be limited by the amount of money they have, racism, bias, and stereotypes. That’s all true. Even with all that, they do have choices and some freedom.

I told them, “You need to understand that it’s not abnormal. It’s normal that uncertainty pops up at these touchpoints.” I told them also that they could choose to settle. They could choose to do what their parents tell them to do. They can make a choice about college or not college and what to study based upon pleasing their parents, not disappointing their parents, or not standing out as being weird where they’re like, “Why are you doing that?” or, “It’s not going to pay much money.”

You could settle into what other people think you should do and what you should do or what the culture says that you’re able to do. You could settle into all that. It would be probably less anxiety-producing and there’d be less uncertainty, but do you really want to settle? Is that how you want to start out this leg of your journey, by not doing what your heart is telling you to do?

It’s easier sometimes to take that prescribed path or the path that other people think we should do. It’s easier because we’re not really getting out of our comfort zones. I tell them, “Choosing those safe choices isn’t wrong.” It’s that it’s probably not going to lead to the kind of joy and fulfillment that you’ll have if you do what’s right for you. Know that there is going to be anxiety and uncertainty. You can take the path of least resistance, the safe path, or you can get out in those skinny limbs and do what your heart is telling you to do and what fulfills you. Know that when you do that, there’s going to be some angst. There are going to be all those feelings.

I also tell them, “You’re not in control of those touchpoint feelings. They come up. They’re normal.” I’ll talk in a minute about dealing with them. What they do have control over is whether or not they shame themselves. I heard so much shaming going on with the high school girls. I hear it so much when I’m working with these women in college. They shame themselves for their feelings that they shouldn’t feel that way.

They’re all supposed to be happy. They’re supposed to be grateful because they have all these opportunities, all these choices, and all this freedom. They’re like, “Why are you so stressed out? It’s okay. You’re going to be fine.” When they feel it, they feel like, “I shouldn’t.” They feel ashamed. The shame for feeling the feelings is usually worse than the feelings and worse than what they’re going through. That is a part they can work on to let go of the shame and see what they’re going through as normal.

Embrace, Express, Engage, Enjoy

I also teach the girls to embrace a mantra that has four words in it. Each of the words begins with the letter E, which are Embrace, Express, Engage, and Enjoy. Embrace is what I’ve been talking about, which is to normalize the feelings. Accept that they’re a normal part of growing up. It is a normal part of those growth stages. They are a normal part of being out in the skinny limbs. They are a normal part of the freedom choice package.


RADA | Uncertainty


I’d let them know that when those feelings get triggered for whatever reason to find a time and find a space where they feel safe, and then to let the feelings come up. Feel sad. Feel anxious. Feel the uncertainty. Let yourself feel it. Go there for a little while. Listen into your heart and get a sense of, “What are these feelings telling me?” There’s always a message that comes with the emotions. You’re like, “What are these emotions telling me about me?” Learn to touch on that. It’s really important.

What those uncertain feelings you’re telling them is you’re growing. You’re approaching a touchpoint. You’re alive. You’re picking your own path. You’re picking the freedom, choice, and my-path thing. Good for you. Embrace that. There are other things that come with it or other emotions that come with it. Remind yourself that it means that you are alive and growing. Embrace it.

Find some healthy ways to express those feelings when you have that quiet time where you allow yourself to feel. Whether you journal the feelings, write stories about or songs about it, draw pictures of it, or talk to somebody about it, find healthy ways to express it because what is unexpressed becomes unmanageable.

If you don’t express those emotions, you shove them down, you are ashamed of them, or you feel like you don’t want to feel that stuff, you can do that, but they build up and then overload. It leaks out as anger, sleeping problems, headaches, and stomach aches. It leaks out as anger. It leaks out as anxiety. It leaks out as feeling blah and unmotivated and being distracted. There is always a cost to stuffing things and shoving things down. Instead of allowing those things to come up, feel them, normalize them, and let them pass through you. That is what happens to those emotions if you allow yourself to feel them. They don’t stick around. They pass through you. Express them.

The third E is Engage. Engage in things, activities, and interests that you like to do. It is things you’re passionate about or think you can pour yourself into it. Become fully engaged and fully in the moment and derive the joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction that comes from that. When you’re in those moments where you are all in, engaged, and doing something you love to do, all that worst-case rumination stuff, those thoughts, float away because you’re in the moment. You’re not allowing yourself to live in this negative, worst-case, futuristic world where everything is wrong and everything goes bad. Your whole life is derailed and you are not going to get a job. You move from that world to the here and now where you are doing what you love to do.

I tell them besides going about their regular day of school or whatever, they also can find things. One girl said she loves to take walks outside, which is beautiful, and she takes her camera. She loves taking nature photography. One girl talked about going rock climbing. Several girls talked about how they love going to yoga classes. It’s quiet. They move and breathe with their movements. You have to be in the moment. Focus on your body and on your breath. It’s calming. You’re in the present moment. You leave that world of worst-case future. You’re focused more on the moment and less on the anxiety.

You can also teach yourself to focus on the positive parts of what’s going to happen. That’s the Enjoy part. That’s the fourth word is Enjoy, which is Enjoy the ride. You’re 16, 18, 21, or 23. You have the whole world in front of you. It’s uncertain. There is some anxiety. You could make a choice that doesn’t work out. You might make a decision that doesn’t work out. That’s all true. It’s also exciting. It’s fun. It’s an adventure. It’s the next leg of your journey. You’re in charge of it. Finally, in your life, you can call the shots. You know what’s best for you better than anybody so you can call your shots. There’s a lot of self-satisfaction and contentment that comes from that as well as fulfillment.

Focus more on those feelings than the anxiety. If you focus on the anxiety and the uncertainty, that gets bigger. It blocks out the more positive feelings of fulfillment, enjoyment, fun, etc. You’re in charge of what you focus on. I’d focus on the excitement, the adventure, and all that kind of thing instead of getting overwhelmed with the uncertainty.

For every teen or every woman in college that I work with, I encourage them to interview adults. They need stories to back up what I’m saying. They need to talk to people who are their friend’s parents, aunts, uncles, or any adult that they bump into. I had a girl who worked at a coffee shop. If they are not very busy, she’ll talk to the people at the counter. She’ll ask people about their lives. She is like, “When you were my age when you were 16, 18, or 23, did you know you’d be doing then what you’re doing now at age 50, 60, or whatever?”

In my experience, 90% of adults would say, “I had no idea.” I didn’t go from A at age 18 to Z at age 55 in one straight line. What I did was I zigzagged my way there. I had ups and downs. I made some mistakes. I had some failures in a business but I learned from it, moved on, and then found my thing. Through these experiences, I learned. What was fulfilling to me when I was 25 was different when I was 40. It is not because of anything other than I was different at 40. I changed. I grew. What was important and interesting shifted so I shifted with it.

Interview adults. Read biographies. I strongly encourage them to read biographies or watch documentaries of people’s lives to see how people grew along their path and see how people got from A to Z. It’s very confirming for them and affirming. Most of those people didn’t know what they wanted to do when they were their age. It is like, “It’s okay for me not to know and not have all my ducks in line. I need to take one step at a time and enjoy the moments and my path will reveal itself over time.”

Take one step at a time. Enjoy the moment and your path will reveal itself over time. Click To Tweet

This could be an episode you read with your daughter. Encourage them to reach out to other people and hear stories. Tell your daughters your stories about your path, not just the highs but also some of the lows. I’m sure there are ups and downs on your journey. You probably made some mistakes along the way and it didn’t derail you forever.

Talk to your daughters about what you learned along the way. Let them see that your path was a zigzag path. It wasn’t a straight line of having one goal, putting your nose to the grindstone, and grinding it out. That’s not usually how it works for most people. Tell them your story so they know that you understand. They’ll be much more likely to come to you and use you as a sounding board. You have a much better chance of remaining an influence if they know that you’re human and that you also walked that path of uncertainty and came out on the other side.

Normalize it. Help them learn to embrace, express, engage, and enjoy so that they can enjoy this ride more than they are. Allow them to know and enjoy even the bumps along the way. Thank you as always for stopping by. Thank you as always for passing these on. I will be back here with a brand-new episode. I appreciate your interest in these. I appreciate that you are interested in becoming the kind of parent who will remain an influence in your daughter’s life. Good for you. I’ll see you back here soon.


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